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The Album Experience

A few weeks ago I was perusing iTunes looking for songs to buy on a gift card I received. I chose a few Foo Fighters songs from their most recent album (I didn’t really care for the previews I had heard of the whole thing) and the Bon Jovi anthem “It’s My Life”. I’m not even sure which record that track was on. My guess is it’s probably on several of them but I just wanted the song for when I do cardio at the gym so it didn’t really matter.

I mean, you can’t play Eye of The Tiger consecutively for thirty minutes straight while on the treadmill. Well, I suppose you can but I like to mix it up a bit.

Speaking of Bon Jovi, I read an article not too long ago from Jon Bon Jovi himself. He made the outrageous claim that Steve Jobs and iTunes had single-handedly ruined the music business. This coming from a guy whose band has made millions of dollars off of it. Including quite a bit of it from me over the years I might add and more than enough money for him to one day become part owner of a billion dollar NFL team. A guy who still continues to sell his music on iTunes and profit off of it. Just who is he trying to kid anyway?

But the more I thought about it and looked at the receipt for my downloaded songs the more I realized….he’s right. The entire “experience” of getting and listening to new music is gone.

Back in “the day” if you heard a cool song on the radio from a band you loved you had three choices…

One:  Call the radio station 24/7 and beg them to play it.
Two:  Try and find the 45″ single of it somewhere.
Three: Buy the album, which was always readily available.

In my case, the choice was easy. I would always buy the album because I LOVED the experience (ok, and also because I didn’t want to sound like a sissy calling the request line).

When you first heard the new “hit” from the band on the radio and the brouhaha that followed you knew the countdown to the new album was officially on. It was almost like Christmas was coming.

There was nothing quite like getting that new album (or CD) and taking it home for the first time. Especially if you’ve waited the habitual two years since your favorite group’s last record. A literal lifetime when you are growing up.

My ritual was this: I would get the album, lock myself in my bedroom, tear open the shrink-wrap and put new vinyl on the turntable. Always first song, first side (or first track on a CD – I’m not THAT OLD). I knew the “hit” was always about the third song in and I didn’t want to just skip to it. I wanted the build up.

As the first notes of the record started I knew ‘the boys were back’ and I’d  begin to immerse myself in the liner notes. The smell of new ink would invade my senses and the troubles of the day would soon fade away.

Even though the guys in the band had absolutely no idea who I was (at best just a little dot in the 23rd row at their last concert) it felt like a reunion with old friends. Friends that had inspired me, comforted me and consoled me with their music.

“Boys, where have you been? What’s new?”

I’d read all about the musicians and where the album was recorded and who any “special guest” musicians that had played on the album were. The thank-you notes would always include references to God and family and as a musician myself I’d always think that maybe some day I’d have the opportunity to make these same decisions for my own album.

But most important of all, I read the lyrics.

I loved reading about the pain, heartache and reckless abandon the band felt when creating this record. I tried to relate what I was going through in my own life with what I read and listened to. By the time the “hit” started playing I was already in some distant utopia. (which coincidentally, was the name of the store in downtown Easton where I bought a lot of my records).

When the record was over it was almost like you had just gotten off an amusement park ride. Sure, some of the songs weren’t as good as I had hoped but there were always some gems on there. I liked to guess which song would be the next one released to radio and I’d start wondering just how long it would be before these guys came to town and I could go see them again. The whole thing was indeed an experience.

Now, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I had the whole music experience. I too find myself falling into the same routine that everyone else does. Getting the quick-fix by downloading the one “hit” song. Quite frankly, I even believe most artists these days are perfectly happy with just getting the 99 cents for that one song and ignoring the “album”. But taking Jon’s advice, I decided to pass the digital quick fix and try the album experience again. I chose to buy a physical album from a favorite band whose records spent many months on my turn table growing up and one who coincidentally had just released a brand new album: Night Ranger’s “Somewhere in California”.

I sat there in my office, put the CD into the computer, fired up the media player and started playback on the first track. It was so easy to fall back into the groove, read the liner notes and get lost in thought. And although there were some really great songs on there I know that in today’s music business not a single track on this album will ever get airplay. But the experience of listening to an album from start to finish was as wonderful as I had remembered it to be.

So Mr. Bon Jovi was right in a way. I guess iTunes has changed the game. And sure, I’ll probably take the Night Ranger album and throw it on my mp3 player to take with me. Will I listen to it day and night? Probably not. But favorite songs aren’t meant to be just some digital file on an iPod.

They’re meant to stay with you for a lifetime.

 

Extra: Be sure to check out my other Night Ranger blog article here

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Just Get Permission

I remember being a teenager and going to my first dance. It was one of those events where I wanted everything to be perfect. My brother, who was a few years older than me, had his own room and a bottle of cologne that he had bought with his own hard-earned money sitting in his dresser drawer.

Even though I had already showered, I still remember wanting to make a big impression with the “ladies” that night. I certainly didn’t want to take the chance of coming across smelling like teenage sweat and gasoline from mowing the lawn earlier in the day.

My brother was away so I secretly crept into his room, donned some of the essence of manhood, resealed the bottle and was on my way. “He’s got so much of it, he won’t mind if I use it”, I said to myself.

Of course, when I came home from the dance and my brother smelled the remnants of his cologne on me well, needless to say my arm hurt for weeks from the punches I had received.

My point is: there are consequences for doing things without permission.

The same can be said for politicians who decide to use artists songs without permission for rallying cries and campaign themes. As was evident most recently when Newt Gingrich decided to use the song “Eye of The Tiger” by the band Survivor as the entrance theme for his political events. An author himself, and probably more knowledgeable in the area of copyright laws than the average person, Newt should have known better.

Consider this: What if someone were to raise money for their own cause at some conference by reading verbatim one of Newt’s books? If large amounts of cash started pouring in, how long would it be before Mr. Gingrich would send a registered letter with a cease and desist order attached to it?

We’ve seen this before. In 2011 Congresswoman Michele Bachman tried to use Tom Petty’s “American Girl” without permission. In 2008 then republican presidential candidate John McCain tried to use the song “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne without permission.

Even as far back as 1984 President Reagan attempted to use the Bruce Springsteen anthem “Born in The USA” as part of his re-election campaign . In each case the candidate was eventually, and sometimes embarrassingly denied.

But unauthorized use of songs isn’t just restricted to republicans. in 2008, then candidate Barack Obama started using the song “Hold On! I’m Comin'” made famous by R&B group Sam and Dave. That is of course until Sam Moore, the songwriter, requested he stop using it.

All of these are good songs and ones that would be a no brainer for use at rallies and campaign events. But the people using them all forgot to seek permission to use them first.

Now some may think to the contrary but I personally don’t believe songwriters choosing to sue or have cease and desist orders sent out are based on personal politics. What most people don’t understand is that songwriters put their heart and soul into their material.

Songs aren’t just something you create like a paper airplane. The words and music contained in songs are the thoughts, pains and struggles of the writer. They’re actually living, breathing works of art and as such, it’s the writers duty to protect their copyright. As a songwriter myself, I can relate to this.

But whether or not a songwriter chooses to allow a political candidate, or anyone for that matter, to use their material is irrelevant. Maybe they will let you use it and maybe they won’t. But to avoid consequence, much like the lesson I learned using my brothers cologne, you should always remember to do one thing:

Get permission first.

Say It Isn’t So

A few days ago a friend of mine asked me to go online and check out a new CD the band he was in had just released. I quickly pointed my web browser to the CD Baby website to give a listen to a buddy whose cover band has been tearing up the local watering holes around town for years. Finally getting to hear his own original music was really going to be a treat.

CD Baby is a gold mine for independent artists. A website most local and regional bands use to promote their new music. It’s a great way for unknowns to get the word out to people who may not even know who they are.

But I never would have guessed that the CD Baby platform would ever be used in the opposite way.

Case in point: While listening to my boy’s uptempo bar songs I happened upon a CD listing for a band whose name sounded familiar to me. The album for sale was called “Replay” and the band was “The Outfield”.

“The Outfield?? It couldn’t be”, I said to myself. But by checking the band description it didn’t take long to realize that yes, this “Outfield” was the exact same Outfield who had been all over radio and MTV and sold five million records thirty-two years ago. Riding a stream of hits including “Say It Isn’t So”, “For You” and “Your Love” (a song which ironically has been in the set list of my buddy’s band for years). What the hell were these guys doing on CD Baby?

I gave a listen to some of the preview tracks just to verify that this was the band whose catchy hooks were a staple of the mid 1980’s. The new songs I heard were actually quite good. Just as good if not better than some of the ones I had heard from them during the Reagan administration. Music that brought back memories of blaring boom boxes, feathered hair and childhood summers. Music that, in my opinion, should now still be played on Top-40 radio and what ever the alternative is for MTV.

Sadly, there was no point in me picking up the phone and calling the local radio station to request California Sun, a track from the new record. Although it would personally be cool to request “The Outfield” again what were the odds that the DJ on the other end of the line would even know who this band was?

Now, had I said Bruno Mars, Katy Perry or Taylor Swift it would be a different story. There is a plethora of songs to choose from there. “Music” that saturates radio today. Song by artists that quite honestly are completely interchangeable with each other. All manufactured with the same chords, the same beat and the same theme. The only difference being the actual lyrics of the song and even most of those are cliché’.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing about skies full of lighters, a drunk party or crying out in the yard at two in the morning because my boyfriend broke up with me. They only make me long more for the days of Josie being on a vacation far away.

Music isn’t created anymore, its manufactured on an assembly line. The songwriters are gathered together with ideas already in place by the suits at the record company and the music is programmed in a high-tech studio in some big city. It makes me wonder how many actual musicians are playing their instruments on these tracks. Finally, it’s all put together, packaged and backed by a gigantic marketing team with deals already in place with major suppliers.

The days of the public deciding what music is good and bad are over – companies now tell you what you should buy and price their product appropriately.

Want proof? Just check out in stores and digital downloads. Ever notice that some new digital music singles sell for 30% less than standard 99-cent rate? And new CDs, for certain popular artists, which normally sell for $13.99 at a store, sell for $7.99?  Not coincidence.

It’s no longer about the music or how much money sales generate, it’s only about how many physical units are sold. Selling a million physical copies of a single or a CD offsets the loss of millions of dollars in the art that created it.

Worst of all, this manufactured stuff gets top billing in stores, radio and I-Tunes while “real” new music gets pushed to Indie web sites to be stumbled upon by accident.

To help reinforce my point about the difference between real music and today’s manufactured material let’s do a quick comparison of #1 songs in the USA from the years 1982 and 2011.

Entire month of January 1982: Physical: Olivia-Newton John
Entire month of January 2011:  Grenade: Bruno Mars

Entire Month of April 1982: I Love Rock and Roll: Joan Jett and The Black Hearts
Entire Month of April 2011:
ET (Katy Perry w. Kanye West) – No, it’s not about the little alien guy who ironically, first appeared in 1982.

Half of the month of July and all of August 1982: Eye of The Tiger (Survivor)
Entire month of July and Half of August 2011: Party Rock (LMFAO Featuring Lauren Bennett & GoonRock)

Now, armed with this knowledge, ask yourself this question:

Thirty years from now, which songs will you still remember?

Survivor 2012: A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part Two)

Photo by Mary Hanley

In November of 2011 guitarist Frankie Sullivan and vocalist Jimi Jamison together announced that after a long hiatus Jimi would be returning as lead vocalist of the band Survivor. The group, which has a plethora of hits including “Eye of The Tiger”, “The Search is Over” and “I Can’t Hold Back” among others, will soon embark on a tour and begin work on their first album of new material with Jamison in more than five years.

The new lineup of Survivor includes Jimi Jamison (vocals), Frankie Sullivan (guitar), Marc Droubay (drums), Billy Ozzello (bass) and Walter Tolentino (keyboards/guitar).

In the second of my two-part interview with Frankie Sullivan I ask him about his approach to songwriting, the sessions for the album Vital Signs, his take on X-Factor/American Idol and why paying your dues as a musician is so important.

We’ll also discuss the upcoming 30th anniversary of “Eye of The Tiger”, the theme song from Rocky III, which earned the band an Academy Award nomination among other accolades, and still ranks as one of the biggest songs of all time.

It truly was an honor to speak with one of my all time favorite songwriters. I’m really looking forward to what Survivor has in store for 2012. As the band themselves have said: “Here’s to a year of new beginnings, determination and more great music!”

A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part Two):

gJg:  You’ve written a lot of really big hit songs and one thing I’ve always wanted to ask you about was the process you use for songwriting.

FS: Actually it all depends. Sometimes I’ll start with a lyric if I’m inspired by the right thing, or a person or a place or you know, some experience. “I Can’t Hold Back” was like that. But sometimes it could be a guitar lick like the beginning of “I Can’t Hold Back”.  I was just goofing around with the acoustic guitar one day and (Jim) Peterik was like, “Hey, what’s that you’re playing?” and we took it from there. The next day we finished writing it. That was “I Can’t Hold Back.” It’s what ever you feel at the moment.

I like to play the guitar a lot. I jam out on a lot of riffs. And it’s not really heavy or hard all the time. Sometimes it’s on acoustic or piano. I think it’s whatever strikes your chord at the moment. But as long as you can get it out there and then maybe get with someone who can relate to and finish it, that’s what matters.

gJg: So you and Jim would just sit in a room together and start bouncing ideas off of each other? Playing and writing things down on paper?

FS: Jim Peterik and I, back in the Vital Signs days and prior, would write Monday through Friday every day from 2 o’clock until six or seven no matter what. No excuses, it was like going to work. We were practicing and honing our craft trying to do the best we could do. Some days we’d write two songs, some only one but we always had the work ethic of how we wanted to go about it. I’m proud of the fact that we always worked hard.

You know, it’s really difficult to write good songs. But Jim and I were coming from two different places. We were like night and day so the stuff we wrote together would always have that extra spark to it.

gJg: Was “Eye of The Tiger” like that as well?

FS: You know, that was the easiest of them all… (laughs).

We had a ballad that we wrote called “Ever Since The World Began” (from the “Eye of The Tiger” album) and Jim and I both loved it. We thought this song was going to be great. “Tiger” we totally down played. We thought “Eh, this is going to be like “movie music” or something.”

I think we wrote the music for it in like half an hour and it took us three days to write the lyrics only because we couldn’t come up with the punch line. But we kind of had it down in half an hour.

gJg: So there’s no big story about how it was written?

FS: No, there’s no real brilliant story behind it. Some of the stuff I’ve seen on the Internet that people have written about it and I’m like, “No, it’s not like that…that’s ridiculous!” – That’s not what happened. It was real simple.

The president of our record company was friends with (Sylvester) Stallone. They were really good friends. He had the Queen song “Another One Bites The Dust” and Stallone wasn’t happy with it. So he said “Well you know, I have this band…”  It was just two social guys having dinner. That’s what started it all.

I remember Jim Peterik had pneumonia at the time so I went out alone and spent ten days working with Stallone and it was just a blast. He was totally cool. He just wanted it to slam. He wanted it to sound just like the demo but with balls. So I played it for him and took it to the limit and he loved it.

And afterwards I remember seeing it in the movie theater and thinking to myself, “Man, this sounds raw, it sounds rock. It sounds basic.” There are a lot of cool things about it. It sounds like it was on the spot. You can hear a lot of spontaneity in it.

You can hear Dave (Bickler, the singer at the time) just going for it and you can tell some of the lines are just scratch lines. There’s a lot of good stuff going on.

gJg: And thirty years later?…(laughs)

FS:  Doesn’t hurt (laughs).

You know, I can’t believe it’s been that long. And there’s still a lot of cool stuff going on with it. Even today I’m hearing that Stallone wants to go LIVE and take it to Broadway among other things.

We just got a plaque from Sony, it’s something like 2.8 million downloads. I don’t have an updated official number but I know it’s the 8th most downloaded song on the Internet right now.

gJg: Amazing.

People love the tune. They can identify with it. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to be part of Rocky.

gJg: Then you had success with “Burning Heart” a few years later.

FS: Yeah, Burning Heart was after Tiger. That was in Rocky IV. That one was actually just a phone call we got. They asked us if we could do another song and we were like “Of course!” We wanted to be part of Rocky too. That sure wouldn’t hurt us. (laughs). Not with a #2 record.

Photo Courtesy of: SherylRobPhotos.com

gJg: What was the story with “Fire Makes Steel”, the song from the “Reach” album that was rumored to be on the Rocky Balboa soundtrack a few years back (2006)?

FS: You know, I just think at certain times things are either meant to be or not meant to be. Looking back now, I think this was a case where it just wasn’t meant to be and I’m ok with that.

gJg:  Let’s talk a little bit about my favorite Survivor record: Vital Signs. The first album I ever bought and  subsequently wore out. That album has meant so much to me that I now have it framed and hanging on my wall.

FS: That’s really an intense album. Ron Nevison (producer) really was responsible for that record. In the beginning it came down to songwriting. Then it came down to Jim’s voice changing the whole landscape of Survivor. But in the end, Ron Nevison played such a huge part.

gJg: Yes, I read a lot of interviews where you were talking about his contributions to the success of it.

FS: Well, he’s really been underrated. I mean, I met this guy and he’s telling me that he had just finished up producing Physical Graffiti (Led Zeppelin) and was getting ready to go to work on The Baby’s new album. I mean, this guy is a MAJOR cat. He did Bad Company. I was like “Holy shit, the guys he’s produced are my idols!”

Unfortunately, the first time we got him on board it didn’t work out. But the second time we got him (for Vital Signs) he was really hungry and just wanted to work again. I mean, he always works hard but on ours, he worked so hard I can’t tell you.

gJg: It paid off for sure.

FS: It absolutely did. Nevison worked so hard at making us all do the best we could do. He was very demanding with us. Not difficult, but demanding. There’s a difference. Always demanding that we did our best. And it really did pay off.

We already had the songs but Ron helped us arrange them and helped us deal with this new voice that I loved. I remember when he first committed to do the record with us that he didn’t know what to expect.

I sent him over a cassette tape of our rehearsal  with some of the songs. I think “Broken Promises” was one of them. He said “That sounds great, I’ll do it”.

And the thing is, he’s very picky about what he does so we really got lucky. It’s like I said earlier, everything is always kind of either meant to be or not but at that point all of us were working together towards the same goal and that’s what mattered most.

What’s funny is that even though we worked really hard there was a lot of fun with it too. It’s true dude. People sometimes become jaded and forget that. They forget the one thing that makes it all worthwhile: It’s fun.

People sometimes ask me what I do it for and I tell them: “Because it’s fun as hell to get up there on stage and play the guitar, have people act crazy and have a good time and sing along with your songs. That’s really, really enjoying.

gJg: What do you think about those shows like “The X-factor” and “American Idol”? The ones where they get some unknown up there who wins a contest and then all of a sudden they’re famous. What are your thoughts on that?

FS: I’ve kind of been down on that ever since Tyler did it (current American Idol judge Steven Tyler).  I don’t know why. I guess I’m a Joe Perry kind of guy (guitarist from Aerosmith).

I think it’s all kind of manufactured in a way. I think it’s seen its day. I think Simon Cowell has something to say and I think he really wants to matter. I don’t know if you can find it in a TV show and giving some kid five million dollars though. If you would have given me five million dollars I probably wouldn’t even be around. (laughs)…

Seriously though, I really think that you can’t short-cut the process. What it’s really all about, at the end of the day, for any and every artist is paying your dues.

Shows like those sure as hell try to short-cut it. Sometimes they succeed but most times they fail. Most of the time when something is manufactured, especially where music’s concerned, you can tell its been short-cutted.

gJg: I read somewhere where Brittany Spears’ last album had something like 25 songwriters on it, 10 producers or something outrageous like that.

FS: (Laughs): They’re all great songwriters but still, TEN great producers?  I mean, at the end of the day, you really only want ONE….not one producer for each cut. (laughs)

I think that’s part of where things are really different now as opposed to the “old days”. It’s too manufactured. It’s like, “What is this stuff?”

Authenticity is obvious. It’s something you can’t always explain but you can feel it in your gut. That’s when I put on “Houses of The Holy”. You know what I mean? Jimmy Page and Robert Plant used to write from the heart and soul. Now that was real talent. Guys that just went in and jammed on the great tunes. Through their feel and relating to each other. Throwing down the best stuff they had to offer.

People, like Jimmy Page. I mean, the kids out there obviously know of his work but if they saw him play they would “get it” it one second .They’ll probably never get to see him play but if they did, they’d “get it” in one second.

I mean, here’s the guy who came up with “Whole Lotta Love”,”Black Dog” and all those riffs. We overlook that but man, there’s a GENIUS at work there. I mean just with guitar riffs.

gJg: It seems that contributions from artists like that are now just taken for granted.

FS: Well, I guess that’s human nature. But with music you just can’t take anything for granted.

I think you just close your eyes, put blinders on and then just go to the woodshed. You make an agreement with yourself that you’re just going to do the best you can do. You say, “I’m going to the write the best songs I can write. Put down on the table the best I have to offer.” If you do that, and really try hard you’re probably going to come close.

But if you sit around and you’re complacent and lazy and not really sure well then that’s how it’s going to come out. I really don’t have much of that in me. I really want to work.

It’s kind of a void now-a-days. I mean, except for the Chili Peppers and people like, say Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters). I really like him. They throw down. I just don’t have the stomach for a lot of this contrived new stuff.

gJg: Well I just hope you guys make it around to my neck of the woods this year.

FS: I’m sure we will man. If we get our way, both Jim and myself are gonna make it to every neck of the woods. That’s what we’d like to do.

gJg: I have to tell you the best show that I ever remember seeing was when you guys were with REO Speedwagon back in 1985 at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA. Both of you were at the top of your game. You guys had “I Can’t Hold Back”, “High on You” and “The Search is Over” out and REO had just hit #1 with “Can’t Fight This Feeling”.

FS: That was THE tour man.

Photo Credit: Tim Hardgrove

gJg: That was the best show I ever saw. I say that only because the impact of it still sticks with me today. No other show has done that for me.

FS: That’s nice of you to say. We were really at our peak. We were just on the road having a good time. We realized that the harder we tried to make something happen it just wasn’t going to. So we just decided to have the best time we could. People still like spontaneity. People can tell.


gJg: How will you choose what songs you’re going to do this time around? I mean, aside from the hits.

FS: I think this time around we’ll look at around 45 or 50. I think we’ll actually look at the whole catalog. You can look at the fact that the keyboard player just doesn’t play keyboards but is also a killer guitar player. So now you say ok, now we can do “Love is On My Side”, “Take You On A Saturday” (from the “Premonition” album). You can go down the whole list.

Then you can think “Nothing Can Shake Me” and “Somewhere in America” from the first record and before you know it you’re saying “Hell, we’ve got 45 songs to learn!”

And then you can say, “Well, isn’t this fun? We don’t have to play the exact same set all the time. We can change it up every night.” And people can kind of be re inspired. It will be like playing a different show every night. I think that’s where both Jamo and my heads are at. It’s a good place to be, where we’re at right now.

gJg: I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me Frankie.

FS: No problem James.

gJg: Back in the day, my guitar teacher thought I was crazy coming in there to learn songs from the Vital Signs record and me telling him that I wanted to learn “See You In Everyone” note for note… (laughs)

FS: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s kind of like me with “Black Dog” saying “Yeah, how do I play like this guy?” But I found it didn’t sound exactly the same. Then I realized it’s because Jimmy Page has got different fingers and a different soul.

gJg: I felt the same way playing your stuff.

FS: Well, that’s nice to hear. I’m glad you enjoyed it though. I really am. Thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

gJg: No problem. It’s been great talking with you. Looking forward to what’s next with Survivor. Happy New Year to you.

FS: And the same you too.

Article first published as Survivor 2012: A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part Two) on Technorati

Survivor 2012: A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part One)

In November of 2011 guitarist Frankie Sullivan and vocalist Jimi Jamison together announced that after a five-year hiatus Jimi would be returning as lead vocalist of the band Survivor. The group, which has a plethora of hits including “Eye of The Tiger”, “The Search is Over” and “I Can’t Hold Back” among others, has been recording and touring sporadically the past few years with vocalist Robin McAuley.

The news of McAuley’s departure and Jamison’s return also coincides with the announcement that Survivor will embark on a new tour in the summer of 2012. In addition, the band also plans to start work on their first album of new material since 2006’s “Reach”.

The new lineup of Survivor includes Jimi Jamison (vocals), Frankie Sullivan (guitar), Marc Droubay (drums), Billy Ozzello (bass) and Walter Tolentino (keyboards/guitar).

I was fortunate to be able to speak with Frankie Sullivan and get the inside scoop on the reunion with Jamison and a lot more. In the interest of space I’ve divided this interview into two parts. In part one Frankie will discuss the decision to go back to the classic voice of Survivor and talk about the group’s plans for 2012 and beyond.

As you read this interview you may discover that at times it sounds as if I’m being a bit biased and for that I apologize. You must understand that this band’s music has had a huge influence on me as both a fellow musician and as a person. What follows surely reflects that. For me, the excitement of having both the classic voice of Survivor back and the opportunity to speak with Mr. Sullivan personally is a dream come true.

Photo by M. Hanley

A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part One)

goJimmygo (gJg):Hey Frankie, how are you?

Frankie Sullivan (FS): I’m just fine, how are you?

gJg: I’m doing good. It’s great to be able talk to you.

FS: You too man. What’s shakin’?

gjg: Right now, pretty much everything is actually (laughs). When I heard you guys were coming back with Jimi (Jamison) I was stoked.

FS: Yeah, that was the call of the century (laughs). It was a decision that wasn’t that hard to make. It took me about two seconds. I was like (referring to Jamison): “Dude, what are we doing here? C’mon”.

gJg: When I was out seeing concerts last summer I noticed that all of the bands that I loved from the 80’s were teaming up together on hugely successful  tours. Packages like Journey, Foreigner & Night Ranger; REO Speedwagon and Styx. All of these groups out there and I’m there thinking to myself “Where’s Survivor? These are the only guys that are missing!”

FS: Yes and now we can finally team up with them.

gJg: What I thought was even cooler was that bands like Journey and Night Ranger, who both had released new albums, were mixing new songs into the set list instead of just playing all of the hits. It was nostalgic and it was new at the same time.

FS: Yes, it’s really cool because now they want us out there again.

gJg: Well, truth be told, I’ve been wanting you for years. (laughs)

FS: It actually took a while to get Jimi into it though. He was trying to do his own thing and sometimes you just have to try and give people space. Eventually, it all comes full circle and so now, here we are.

Jimi and I were actually talking on the phone a lot the past few years just keeping in touch. Then one day I just said to him “Dude, we should just do it again.” I know most of those players in those other bands and they all want to know what we’re doing because they want us to be on the dates with them. So I’m like,“Well, ok let’s go do it!”

So now we’re just waiting. You’ve just got to let things take their course. Jimi still has some obligations to fulfill and ours (Survivor) are done.

gJg: I noticed that Jimi seems to be playing a lot of dates in Europe and very select shows here in the states. Is there a reason for this?

FS:  Oh yeah, Europe is a huge market for us. For both Jimi and Survivor. It’s a huge market.

gJg: I have to be honest, I was really starting to miss not having you guys come around a lot.

FS: Well, we’re going to be doing that again. Jimi and I just want to play forever you know? Now we can go and do that again. We just haven’t done it as a band. I think the last time we did was around 2006.

gJg: The last time I saw you guys was at Hershey Park (Hershey, Pennsylvania)

FS: Oh did ya?

gJg: Yeah, that’s where I got my Vital Signs record signed by you and Marc (Droubay, drummer).

FS: Oh really, at Hershey Park? (laughs).  All the chocolate all over the place. That’s great. It will be great to get back out there again.

gJg: Oh man, I’m really excited for this.

FS: Right now we’re really having a lot of fun with just the idea of it. Once Jimi’s done with his obligations then we’ll really start picking things up. You have to finish all of your obligations otherwise it reflects on the whole rather than the individual you know?

He’s got about three or four weeks left and then we can get together, start rehearsing and go to work.

gJg: Do you have plans for a record after the tour? Have you been writing or anything like that?

FS: I’m always writing and Jimi’s actually become a good writer too. Plus he can sing anything. We’ll probably end up doing both. Spend the summer playing dates and getting on a tour package and then maybe recording during the fall/winter.

gJg: From the moment I first heard him back on the Vital Signs record right up until his newest album this year with Bobby Kimball he still sounds exactly the same. Not a sign of slowing down. He’s just unbelievable.

FS: He was actually the very first guy we tried out. (Survivor replaced original vocalist Dave Bickler following a vocal condition that would require extensive rest). I loved him from the start and everyone else in the band would say “Ok, that’s cool but let’s try out the next three or four singers”.

I was like, “Wh…wh…why?” (laughs)

So after the fourth guy I can remember saying “Man, I don’t want to do this anymore. Let’s just bring the first cat from Memphis back!” (Memphis, TN – Jimi Jamison’s hometown).

So I think it will work better in terms of new music with Jimi being more involved in the writing rather than just having to show him and say “Here, sing it this way.” He’s always better when left to his own devices.

gJg: It’s the singer not the song right?

FS: That’s what it is. That’s what it is man.

gJg: I’ve always loved the way yours and Jimi’s voices sounded. They blended so well together.

FS: We’ve always sang well together and had fun on stage. Again, it’s all just a matter of timing. People have to go off sometimes and do their own thing. Everyone at some point has to try something on their own. It only makes them bring more to the table when they do come back.

gJg: Do you have any plans to work with Jim Peterik or Stephan Ellis again this time around? (Peterik and Ellis were also part of the “classic “Survivor line-up in the 1980’s).

FS: Well you know, Marc (Droubay, drums) is still with us and Stephan doesn’t really play much anymore. I’ve seen him a few times over the past few months. He’s a really good guy. It looks like it’s going to be me, Marc and Jamo (nickname for Jimi Jamison, pronounced “jay-moe”).

Jim Peterik I’ll always call my partner. I call him that because we’ve written so many songs together over the years. But Jim’s always been trying to do his own thing. He really wants to do that.

gJg: Was it difficult letting Robin (McAuley) know of the decision to go back to the classic voice of Survivor?

I wanted to let Robin know right away of the situation with Jimi. I didn’t want to lead him on and have him possibly miss out on any opportunities that may be coming. But I’ve always loved working with Robin. He’s a real hard worker.

gJg: I see that he’s back with Michael Schenker now doing some tour dates.

FS: Yeah, he has some dates in February and March lined up. He always has a great time and I know he’ll do his best.

gJg: I remember reading on Survivor’s website not so long ago that you had a new single coming out called “How Do You Feel”. What’s the status of that?

FS: That’s a song we recorded with Robin. I told him not too long ago that I was thinking about releasing it on our website for New Year’s because people will flip when they hear it. It’s really good. But now with Jamo back I think it might get people confused.

gJg: Were plans ever made to record an entire album with Robin?

FS: Yeah, we actually had about six songs in the can and they’re all REALLY good. Robin is a great singer and a hard worker. He’s always been. I remember thinking that while working with him on his solo record back in the 90’s. I just think the real “voice” of the band has always been Jamison to give the fans what they really want.

They (the fans) kind of made it clear that’s what they wanted and this is exactly what I needed.

****
In Part Two:

I ask Frankie how he feels about the upcoming 30th Anniversary of “Eye of The Tiger”, the theme song from Rocky III which earned the band an Academy Award nomination, among other accolades, and still ranks as one of the biggest songs of all time.

I’ll also ask him about his approach to songwriting, the sessions for Vital Signs (one of the band’s biggest albums), his thoughts on current reality based music talent shows and why he believes paying your dues as a musician is so important. Good stuff.

Article first published as Survivor 2012: A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part One) on Technorati

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